Committee to test waters on possible fuel tax increase – dothan eagle_ local

DANNY TINDELL / DOTHAN EAGLE Gas Tax 1 Albert Ardis of Dothan fills up his car with gas in Dothan Thursday afternoon. DANNY TINDELL / DOTHAN EAGLE Gas Tax 2 A motorist travels along Geneva County Road 30 near Malvern Thursday. If Geneva County’s 400+ miles of county roads were a canvas and County Engineer Justin Barfield had the freedom to paint, he would have nothing more than a ball point pen with which to work. Barfield tries to maintain Geneva County roads with a cash-strapped budget, as do many engineers from rural counties with a minimal tax base. Almost all of Barfield’s road budget, which varies between $1.8

million and $2 million annually, comes from the state gas tax. About half goes to salaries for around 40 employees. About $300,000 goes toward fuel costs each year and another $200,000 helps maintain equipment.

That leaves about $500,000, most of which goes toward emergency repairs to keep roads drivable Considering it costs between $125,000 and $150,000 to resurface a mile of road, Barfield finds it funny to think about planning a major resurfacing project for any of the county’s off-system roads, which are rural county roads not eligible for state or federal funds. Geneva County has about 200 miles of those roads. “Other than patching up potholes, these roads haven’t really been touched in 60 years,” Barfield said. “We’re barely getting by just to maintain.

” The Alabama Legislature’s Permanent Joint Transportation Committee plans to hold five public meetings in January to discuss the possibility of a fuel tax increase to aid road maintenance and new construction. Proponents of the tax point out that the state’s fuel tax hasn’t increased in 22 years. During that time, automobiles have become more fuel efficient and advocates contend that while the cost of maintaining roads have increased substantially, the revenue generated to maintain the roads has lagged behind. Public meetings are currently scheduled for Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Mobile. There is no meeting currently scheduled for the Wiregrass.

During remarks made in Dothan in January of this year, Department of Transportation Director John Cooper said Alabama’s lack of available funds to aid in the new construction of roads hampers economic development. “It has frozen us in our tracks and stopped us from aspiring to big things,” Cooper said, while addressing the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce Membership luncheon in January.

There is no definitive word on how much of a fuel tax increase would be proposed or even if the Alabama Legislature would consider the bill during the upcoming session which begins in February. It is also not known how the tax revenue would be distributed. The State of Alabama levies a total of 20.87 cents per gallon in gasoline tax. Sixteen cents per gallon comes from an excise tax, with the remaining 4.87 cents derived from taxes/fees paid on motor vehicle licenses, permits, etc. Local gasoline taxes ranging from one to four cents per gallon are levied in several other Wiregrass municipalities as well. While Alabama residents are typically wary of tax increases, some believe the current low price of gas along with the deteriorating condition of many county roads which are not eligible for federal funds could make the idea more palatable. A relatively minimal increase would also keep Alabama gas prices below at least some of its neighbors.

Florida’s total state gasoline tax burden is 36.42 cents per gallon. Georgia residents pay 26.53 cents, Tennessee 21.4 cents and Mississippi 18.78 cents. Henry County Probate Judge and County Commission Chairman David Money advocated for an increase in the state gasoline tax in a regular column published last month in the Abbeville Herald. “Many Henry County roads were built during ‘Big Jim’ Folsom’s ‘Farm to Market’ road program. Those roads are now 60 years old and many of them have had little improvement made on them,” Money wrote.

“Something must be done – soon. Our head has been in the sand long enough. I’m more than willing to listen to other options.

” Money said response to his column has been generally positive. The overwhelming majority of funding for repair or resurfacing of Henry County roads is for 172 miles of what has been identified as “major collectors”, which are roads that receive most of the traffic.

Hundreds of residents, however, drive and live on 528 miles (348 paved and 180 dirt) of roads in which no outside funding is available for maintenance or resurfacing. Through saving and borrowing, Henry County put a dent in its list of roads most in need of repair in 2014. The $2 million project ($1 million saved and $1 million borrowed) helped repair roads on half of the county’s top ten list, ranked according to road condition, traffic data and accident count. “If we put every paved road on a 15-year resurfacing cycle, we would have spent $5.4 million every year to keep up, twice our maintenance budget. After maintenance is covered, we have maybe $100,000 to $200,000 every year for resurfacing,” Henry County Engineer Chris Champion said. Houston County consistently has the top-ranked county roads in the state.

However, County Commission Chairman Mark Culver said the county has struggled to fund new projects, such as improvements at the intersection of Fortner Street and Brannon Stand Road. “That is one that has been on the books for a long time and, comparatively, it is not very expensive,” Culver said. “But, it has been put off until 2016 because the state just doesn’t have the money. There is not any doubt that we have to do something.

” Houston County has 952 miles of county roads. Several cities and towns in the Wiregrass have levied their own local gasoline tax. The revenue is marginal, but gets thrown into the pot already received from the state on a monthly basis. Revenue from the state gas tax is collected and distributed back to counties and municipalities according to population.

Houston County has levied a one-cent per gallon gasoline tax — known as a “Walden” gas tax — since 1982. The county prorates and distributes the money among the municipalities based on reports submitted by the gasoline distributors each month indicating total gallons delivered to each municipality. Revenue from the additional one cent per gallon tax totals about $700,000 each year and ranged during the 2014 fiscal year from a mere $1,677 for Kinsey to $516,035 for the City of Dothan.

According to a recent AL. com story, the potential tax increase is supported by the Business Council of Alabama and the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. Gov. Robert Bentley has also expressed support.

Opponents of the tax increase are concerned the additional revenue would be used for things other than road and bridge maintenance/repair or construction such as salaries and benefits, administrative buildings and other things. Some are also concerned that revenue could be redirected to one or two costly projects, which would only benefit a small portion of the state. Culver said he could only support an increase in the fuel tax if it was distributed fairly. “Unless the new revenue would mirror the current formula, I could not support it,” Culver said. State Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, said it is too early to tell if the proposal will have momentum. “How the climate will fall, I have no idea at this time. I am looking forward to the report from the (Joint Transportation) committee myself,” Lee said. How is it legal to charge 19 cent tax on purchases at Piggly Wiggly and Food Depot stores just because they say you are buying it at cost? What is the land at the southeast corner of Hartford Highway and Honeysuckle Road being cleared and prepared for? How much does the City of Dothan pay to have litter picked up? Who do they pay to pick up the litter?

How much litter do they pick up on a regular basis? More Ask The Answer Man